One of my favorite blogs is first the egg: a feminist resource on pregnancy, birth and parenting. The post Molly (author of the blog) wrote about birth stories and another with one idea as to how we can all get over the collective societal ‘ick’ when thinking of childbirth really inspired me to realize that my story, with all it’s ups, downs, and diversions from ‘the plan’ is an important one. Because my story is just one, real, honest account of what can happen to someone and what did happen to me, and together all our stories tell how every single human being has to enter the world: through his or her mother.
Molly’s belief that “every woman/family has legitimately different needs, priorities, and resources–and labors–and therefore different ‘best options’ for pain relief in labor” strikes me as the way a true feminist and realist would choose to view the experience of labor. And those words, read after my own labor, meant a lot because as much as I’d rather not admit it (the feminist must never admit defeat!) I did let the expectations I put on myself and my perceived expectations from others cast judgement on my birth experience, despite the fact that afterwards I felt truly wonderful and amazed. I am truly in awe of what my body is capable of and the confidence I have in myself has never been higher. I did what to me, before that day, seemed truly unfathomable.
Six months after the fact, I’m finally writing down my entire birth story off the random notes here and there that I have kept. On Mother’s Day I’m reflecting on the day I became a mother. The day I experienced a safe, healthy labor in a situation of my choosing, unlike so many other women in the world. The day my daughter went from fetus to person, went from loved in the abstract to loved in the very real. To date, the most amazing day of my life.
What follows is a rambling account of baby’s birthday, my mother day. If you don’t feel comfortable reading this birth story, I’m not offended. If you’re interested in our story, read on. And if you want to read my mom-gives-herself-a-pep-talk post, click here. Happy Mother’s Day!
On my due date, I knew something was stirring. I denied that, of course, to anyone who would listen, because I was starting to realized the baby was going to have to exit my body. Seems like I would have considered that before, but I never truly let the physics of it come to my mind until that day. And I was a bit scared. I felt achy in my lower back, I was leaking more fluid than you’d probably like to know about and my appetite (which had been tempered by heartburn in my final weeks of pregnancy) was VORACIOUS. My mom said later that when she saw me demolish a serving platter full of ranch smothered cheese fries in a frenzy, she knew something was up.
At 1am on Due Date Plus One, I woke up with a contraction. In my last fleeting moments of denial, I called the contraction stomach pain and blamed it on the above mentioned cheese fries. Ten minutes later it was harder to deny. Ten minutes after that I sensed a pattern. Nine minutes after that I left Dave sleeping peacefully in bed and went to the living room. I sat on the ball and bounced through the pain, which wasn’t as of yet very intense. Painful, but not excruciating. I timed my contractions and ate a bagel and messaged with my friend and virtual midwife Joanne (mother to NINE, I might mention) about what was going on. I felt calm. And exited. But no longer afraid.
After two hours of bouncing on the ball, the pain of each contraction was increasing steadily. I knew a hot bath would make me feel better and ease the backache, but I had this fear that I’d get in there and have a ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ kind of moment. So I woke Dave up and he was all ‘Huh-wha? Whas happning?’ but quickly snapped out of it and into super-birth-coach mode. He ran the bath, made a snack, supervised my entry and exit from the tub, talked me through the pain. And once I was comfortable again, he promptly fell asleep as I ordered him to take a nap since I had a feeling we were starting a very long day and ONE of us might as well be rested.
A couple more hours of timing and breathing and napping for the 4-6 minutes that passed between my contractions, and I knew it was time to call the doctor. So I did, and she suggested we head to the hospital at our leisure. We packed up, walked the dogs around the apartment complex, then brought them to my mom’s temporary apartment, and we drove to the Ritz Carlton of women’s hospitals (meaning they had flat screens and I didn’t have to share a room).
Upon my arrival I was examined, and upon the examination my water broke…all over the place. Nurses don’t get paid enough. I was just about 3cm.
Once my water had broken, the nurses seemed to think things would progress along nicely. I walked the halls of the hospital, back and forth, back and forth, probably freaking out people in the waiting room. Dave took care to be right there when I needed him, and stand back a bit when I needed space, and he did all this perfectly without me having to explain. Amazing. Seriously, all you girls should be jealous that I snatched him up and then bore his child.
Over the next couple hours I was only visited by nurses occasionally or if I asked for them and Dave and my mom stayed with me all the time. I even caught a bit of the Today show, Matt Lauer really helped ease the labor pains. Eventually, my doctor showed up and examined me. I was about 3cm. That was very disheartening. She suggested Pitocin. I declined.
A couple more hours go on like this. With me breathing and walking and breathing and listening to my playlists and breathing some more. Also, they let me eat a few popsicles. So generous. I was so hungry. Each hospital has a policy on eating during labor, and this one sucked. My biggest regret was not stashing more food behind the toilet so I could sneak it while no one looked.
The nurse came and checked me again. Maybe almost kind of barely 4cm. Meaning still 3cm but she didn’t want me to start crying. By this time is was around noon, and I had been awake nearly all of the past 12 hours. I was in pain, I was doing my best to relax my labor along, and I wasn’t progressing. Frustrating. The baby’s heart rate never faltered though, and that was very calming and heartening.
After another visit from my doctor and a chat with a kind nurse who was very supportive of my desire to remain unmedicated as long as possible, I agreed to start the Pitocin. There were questions as to whether the leaking I had experienced the day before was amniotic fluid, and if that was the case there was some risk of infection to the baby. That fear in the back of my mind was the main reason I agreed to that intervention.
Soon after the Pitocin was started, the contractions predictably got worse. The pain intensified, and so did I. My mom stepped back a bit, Dave stepped in more. Things kind of get blurry for me in terms of time and order of events, because the pain was very, very intense. Excruciating even. At my darkest moment I stood facing Dave, barely seeing him, and told him I needed medicine. He reminded me of my wishes to remain unmedicated as long as possible, I assured him that I had reached that point. He knew I was serious and he got the nurse.
Because I was afraid the epidural (I didn’t want to be immobilized completely or to face the possible though rare complications), I accepted a dose of Stadol. At that point, the best way I can describe what happened is that I sunk very far into my body. I was aware of what was going on, but unable to open my eyes because they felt physically heavy. I would fall asleep between contractions (which was only about 1 or 2 minutes), truly asleep with my mouth open (as recounted by Dave, thanks honey) and then writhe and groan during the contractions. This went on for several hours. To my mind it was a very unpleasant time, but it only last what felt like 30 minutes in my drug haze. I never did do well on drugs.
As the drugs began to wear off and I felt more and more of the pain again (plus I was able to open my eyes), I was frantic to be examined in the hopes that the bits of relaxation I was able to achieve on Stadol would have been enough to dilate me further. When the nurse examined me, however, I was still barely 4cm. You can trust that I started crying then.
With this development, or lack thereof, my doctor started talking c-section. To me, that was very premature. I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t want it to go that way. So I cried the cry of a very tired woman in extreme pain and asked if the baby was in any distress. And she wasn’t. So I decided to get an epidural in hopes of it giving me a few hours to sleep and justified this to myself by saying that if I needed a c-section I would have to have the epidural anyway. I cried to Dave, apologized even for breaking down and getting the epidural. I cried to my mom. I called my best friend, poor thing was pregnant at the time and probably thinking “what the hell have I gotten myself into?!” and told her what was going on, how sad I felt, how it seemed like a failure. To my rational, clear, pain-free mind in the grace of retrospect, this all seems so unnecessary. I made decisions for MY body, MYself, with the best information I had. What’s the apologize for? And though the three of them assured me that no one was judging me, my fear was that they were. Because maybe I was. What a complicated moment in time.
The anesthesiologist was wonderful, calmed my fears, gave me my epidural and sent me to dreamland. With the pain abated and some of my anxiety relieved, I took a nap. Probably the most crucial nap of my life. And about an hour later I woke up, feeling a bit refreshed (in relative terms) and somewhat at peace with the idea that if my body wouldn’t progress and if it was determined there was any danger to the baby at all, I’d agree to a c-section.
When the doctor came in, what a pessimist that woman was, she was all ‘miracles do happen, hope for a high number.’ She checked me and her jaw dropped and said ‘You’re at a ten, do NOT push! We’re having a baby right now!’ Oh ye of little faith!
Never did I ever imagine that the news that it was time to push a melon sized human out of my vagina would give me such a huge smile. But it sure did. As I did some practice pushing with the nurses, I kept saying “I am so motivated!” How annoying is that?! I blame the drugs.
With Dave on my left and a nurse on my right and the doctor out front, we worked together for 20 minutes and I pushed my baby into the world. A GIRL they said. My mind was racing, my heart was pounding, my baby was wailing. I truly felt like I was floating outside of my body, pure bliss and utter shock. Did that really just happen?! My husband’s face was alight, he stayed as close to both of us at every moment as was humanly possible.
A few minutes later, while they did her APGAR test and got her swaddled up, I started to have dark thoughts. I could see her and, in my mind, could see that something was wrong. I was panicking. I was angry. I felt like people in the room were hiding things from me. Dave could tell something was wrong because my joy had turned to silence. I’m not proud of this moment, in some ways I feel like I wasted 10 minutes of the first moments of my baby’s life with these fears. I thought she looked off, her face not quite right, something off? Later I asked myself honestly, if something had been wrong, would I have loved her any less? The honest answer is NO. I wouldn’t have loved her ANY less. But my hope, probably every parent’s hope, is that my child will have a life with the fewest obstacles, the most lovely road, the most manageable challenges possible. A firm but rational discussion with my nurse and a few minutes staring at the beautiful, swollen, new, perfect face of my daughter banished all my dark thoughts and brought me back to the brightest day of my life.
The process of delivering the placenta, being given 2 stitches and getting cleaned up doesn’t even register in my memory. During that time I was being taught breastfeed by my hungry baby, I was talking to my sister over the phone back home, I was staring at my husband in disbelief at what we had just accomplished (what I couldn’t have accomplished without him, frankly, biologly notwithstanding), I was looking at my mom with a new appreciation for the first but not last time.
Six months later, I can truly say I have no regrets. Giving birth is a process about which you can and should educate yourself, but for which you can never fully be prepared. Each experience from one woman to the next (or one labor to the next for one woman) is it’s own, truly unique and unpredictable. With the knowledge I have now about my own body, about the in-hospital process of labor, I would make a few different choices if I have the privilege of a ‘next time’, but what’s done is done and the result is clearly good. I couldn’t be more thankful for the care I had, for the complications I didn’t have, for the baby we made and that I delivered that day. Happy Mother’s Day to us.